Joel 2:12-18 / 2 Cor 5:20 - 6:2 / Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, and the Mass also has a peculiar name to it - Ash Wednesday Mass.
In today's Mass, we have that ritual where ashes are marked on the forehead.
It recalls the ancient Old Testament practice of smearing ashes on the head and other parts of the body as a sign of repentance and penance. Add on sackcloth to it and it is certainly not comfortable at all.
But that is in the Old Testament. For now, the ashes are neatly marked on the forehead but the purpose and significance is still the same - a sign of repentance and penance for our sins.
As the ashes are marked on the forehead, two formulas are used. "Repent, and believe in the Good News"; "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return"
So before Almighty God, we come in repentance and penance, and also to acknowledge our mortality - that we are dust.
In the Bible, human life is often compared to that of grass and flowers - "All flesh is grass and its beauty like the wild flower's. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows on them" (Isa 40:6-8)
Truly what looks so beautiful now will disappear.
That's why when Jesus talked about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, He cautioned about why we are doing it and who we are doing it for.
If it is done for people to see, to attract their attention and to gain their admiration, then it is done in vain. It will just fade and disappear.
Jesus repeated three times: "And your Father who sees all that is done is secret will reward you".
But God our Father is not just seeing what is being done in secret. He is looking at us whom He had created from the dust of the earth and created in His image.
Our Lenten journey of repentance and penance is to turn our eyes back to God our Creator so that all we do is what He wants us to do.
When we turn to ashes and dust, let not our lives be lived in vain and let our lives be futile.
Let us set our eyes and our hearts on God our Father so that even as everything turns to ashes and dust, even as we turn to ashes and dust, God's image that He created in us will live forever.
And God who sees all that is done for Him will reward us.